Pop music from The Netherlands is rich. Tiësto, Armin van Buuren and Within Temptation are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of talent.
Pop music from The Netherlands is too good to be kept within national borders. Tiësto, Armin van Buuren and Within Temptation are the tip of the iceberg in terms of talent, which is finding its way onto the international market with ever growing ease.
Dutch pop music is a lucrative export product. The foundation Buma Cultuur researched its export value, and showed that a respectable profit of 35.9 million euros had been generated in 2006. The most visible names abroad are Tiësto, Armin van Buuren and Within Temptation. Their records sell well abroad, but more importantly, they frequently demonstrate their art form live, all over the world. The contribution of live performances to the export value has even been increasing over the last years, of course, partly as a result of the drop in CD sales figures. However, there are many more well-known live acts outside The Netherlands. The Japanese market, where years ago father and daughter Hans and Candy Dulfer were already successful, seems to be highly receptive to the light, jazzy pop of Wouter Hamel and Room Eleven. Following in the footsteps of Within Temptation, gothic groups such as After Forever, Epica and The Gathering, are also successful. Alternative rock bands such as Voicst and Peter Pan Speedrock are very active; The Nits and The Ex are relatively successful in their scene and have been so for decades.A nation of dance What’s more, this export is growing. The Netherlands scores a good all-round average on the European scene. Needless to say, England is the largest exporter of pop music within Europe; however, Sweden is also among the top. This, still thanks to the enormous success of Abba, but also due to the input of Swedish songwriters and producers in the boy bands category and other commercial genres. This momentum may be missing The Netherlands, but we have dance, a genre which accounts for 37 percent of Dutch music export. This is, of course, mainly due to Tiësto and Armin van Buuren, forerunners of the current Dutch dance scene. Following in their footsteps, Sander Kleinenberg, Fedde LeGrand and Ferry Corsten are also doing well. Junkie XL (Tom Holkenborg) had a worldwide hit with his remix of Elvis Presley’s A Little Less Conversation. Currently, he is particularly successful supplying music for films and computer games in Los Angeles. Furthermore, a number of artists operating on a smaller, underground scale maintain the good reputation of The Netherlands as a nation of dance. This good name is no accident; dance is a completely different phenomenon to rock. Bands that create rock music following the English-speaking model have to compete with England, America and other countries where accents come over more convincingly than the Dutch one. Dance is primarily instrumental, so this is not an issue. In addition, the origins of dance are much more international. The German electronic music and Italian and French disco played just as an important role in the development of dance as the American pioneers and the English trend followers and thus, it was not all that difficult for Dutch dance musicians to add their own twist. This soon proved to be successful, not only on the dance floors in the hands of DJs and other experts, but also in the charts.A record case will do Even before the trance wave that Tiësto and Van Buuren are a part of, the producers’ duo 2 Unlimited – Belgian, but with two eye-catching Dutch vocalists - scored a hit. “The Netherlands quickly became fertile ground for electronic music,” says Pieter van Adrichem, communications manager of the Buma Cultuur foundation whose aim is the promotion of Dutch Music nationally and internationally. “At the time, it became popular very quickly, much quicker than in neighbouring countries.” He also points out that the economics of dance differ considerably in several areas to those of rock. Firstly, the large record companies have never been able to get a grip on dance, which is in the hands of small, independent record labels and distribution companies. Secondly, a DJ can travel around the world much more easily than a rock band, with all its equipment and crew. All a DJ needs is a record case and maybe somebody to carry it for him. Add on the gigantic fees that a top DJ receives and it becomes clear how dance has come to form a large proportion of the music export industry. In addition, behind Tiësto for example, there is a highly-sophisticated business plan in which the record labels play a major role. But Tiësto really is rather good. Whether you like it or not, he can definitely create an atmosphere.” A band must have something that distinguishes it from other bands, however well a band is organised professionally, however cunning the managers, and however much export funding is pumped in. “All successful bands such as Urban Dance Squad or Bettie Serveert are all in some way original, they don’t just emulate others and are not directly recognisable as Dutch. Although, for De Kift, for example, being Dutch seems to work rather well.” Still, there is something to be said about the way in which Urban Dance Squad, at the time, combined various styles. At the end of the eighties, this group, made up of black and white Dutch musicians, acquired considerable fame in Europe and America with a raw mix of rap, funk, rock and new wave – a new cross-over for the time.Diversity as counterbalance Incidentally, it is not only the big-name bands that are seeking fame and fortune abroad. Much more often than twenty years ago, when The Ex was already doing it that way, underground bands are successfully booking gigs elsewhere. Thanks to the Internet, and especially the profile site My Space, which is often used by bands, likeminded souls the world over can be located very quickly and with a little luck and perseverance a low-budget tour abroad can be booked relatively easily. This is how things should be, because, as Van Adrichem says, “Bands have to become increasingly more self-reliant. Record labels have lower and lower budgets to send bands abroad. It is true to say that bands may not earn a lot in this way, but money is not always the driving factor.” In a rapidly changing world, in which the traditionally important role of record labels is becoming less vital due to a reduction in sales figures, these strategies are needed more than ever before. But the Buma Cultuur foundation also does a lot to promote Dutch music abroad, receiving funding from the government for this purpose. They also finance the project MusicXport, with which Dutch bands are sent on tour abroad. Why does the government actually do this? Why is it necessary for Dutch bands to be heard across the border? Van Adrichem is resolute in his answer: “It’s about cultural diversity. It is important to counterbalance the American music industry. The large North-American record labels are mainly interested in their own acts, not in Marco Borsato or De Kift. They also push their own bands and quite hard too, so hard, that you would have to make a terrible record in order to flop, with the marketing strategies they have in place. Understandable of course, it is also a matter of a free market. However, providing a counterbalance is a good thing.”
Jacob Haagsma is a journalist.